Nicholas Alahverdian was hired at the tender age of 14 as a legislative aide for the House of Representatives in the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. He wanted nothing more than to go to school and work at his State House job. Nicholas loved working in the House Chamber and serving the members of the RI General Assembly.
A dysfunctional family
Alahverdian had a problem. His mother and stepfather drank heavily. This worsened after they split and Nicholas lived with his alcoholic mother. Her drinking became worse when Alahverdian’s grandfather died.
She did not bring him to school. Instead, he spent his days at the library and then went to the Capitol in the afternoon. Nicholas Alavherdian made his way to the Rhode Island State House on the RIPTA bus. He traveled to downtown Providence on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays when the House and Senate met for legislative business and committee hearings.
Life at the State House
Some people would find working in the labyrinth that is the Rhode Island State House to be daunting and harrowing. Ever the quick learner, Nicholas didn’t feel that way. He swiftly learned how a bill became a law, who the power players were, which clerk had the best chance of putting a bill first on the committee docket, and other details that most lobbyists take years to learn. Alahverdian learned from the best.
Alahverdian charmed the legislators he worked with. He was invited to fundraisers and the representatives and senators enjoyed his presence. Knowing that he was often left hungry because of his mother’s alcohol addiction, the state legislators even gave him money or invited him to their homes for meals. They wanted to make sure he would have the basic necessities of life.
Nicholas was being abused and neglected at home, and this was common knowledge. But what happened next would spark the most heinous case of torture and abuse that the child welfare system has ever seen. Alahverdian began to demand that he be given a normal and consistent school placement. This occurred after he was taken from his mother due to her parental incompetence.
“A waste of taxpayer money”
The officials in charge of his case, among them a corrupt social worker named Ron Razza, called Nicholas Alahverdian a “waste of taxpayer money.” Other DCYF staff including Mike Burk (the same Michael S. Burk of the Tiverton, RI Democratic party and longtime assistant to the Executive Director of DCYF) even lobbied state representatives to get him fired from his job with the House of Representatives.
Nicholas Alahverdian took matters into his own hands and left the Rhode Island House of Representatives Legislative Aide position on his own accord. He thought it would be a temporary leave of absence.
The youngest lobbyist in history
Nicholas became a registered lobbyist in 2002 and advocated for foster care reform and a permanent school placement. This was not just for him — it was a mission to improve care for all children and adolescents in DCYF care. When Alahverdian registered as a lobbyist, he became the youngest lobbyist in the history of the State of Rhode Island.
Nicholas testified before committees and commissions. He issued detailed briefs on the pitfalls and failures of the state agency charged with caring for neglected and abused children. Alahverdian exposed the wrongdoings of staff and the criminal records of employees and contractors. He made a concerted effort to illuminate the inconsistencies in providing education. This was mainly due to the inherent instability provided by the cruel and abhorrent practice of night-to-night placement.
Alahverdian continued his advocacy work while in the night-to-night program where he was denied a permanent home and academic placement. Nicholas began to draw attention from more representatives and senators who demanded that Judge Jeremiah order a permanent home to be found for him. But Judge Jeremiah and Governor Carcieri had other plans for Alahverdian.
Nicholas Alahverdian began to get more and more attention. His case was covered by The Providence Journal, NBC News, CBS News, ABC News, and Cumulus Broadcasting, among others. Nicholas was even scheduled to appear on The O’Reilly Factor and the Today show on NBC.
Enough is enough
However, Rhode Island officials had enough of the embarrassment. The corrupt officials, namely Judge Jeremiah, Governor Donald L. Carcieri, DCYF Director Jay Lindgren, and others worked to snuff Alahverdian and his story out of the press to protect their reputation.
Alahverdian was sent far from home where he was allowed to contact no one at all. He was refused communication with the legislators who had fought on his behalf. He was refused contact with lawyers. Alahverdian was refused to file a lawsuit or contact the courts to contest the lockdown placements where he was unlawfully held.
The torture of Nicholas Alahverdian
When Nicholas Alahverdian was sent to Nebraska and Florida, the state officials knew these facilities were dangerous. This knowledge was supplied to the state officials in the form of grand jury reports issued by the respective states through what is called the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children.
Nicholas was sent far from home in violation of Rhode Island General Laws as well as U.S. federal law. Rhode Island law holds that a child be placed in the least restrictive setting possible. Instead, Alahverdian was placed hundreds of miles from home in places where he was allowed to contact no one and where he was beaten on a daily basis.
Nicholas was also raped on multiple occasions at the facility in Florida, and news articles covering the crime exist to support the claim made in Alahverdian’s lawsuit. The rapist, Rhonda Smith, pleaded guilty in a Florida court.
The Bradenton Herald reported on October 23, 2004:
A technician at Manatee Palms Youth Services was arrested Thursday on a charge she sexually battered a 17-year-old male at the facility.
Rhonda A. Smith, 23, of Bradenton was accused of molesting the teen on three separate occasions, according to an arrest report filed by the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office. Smith admitted to the battery, the report said, and she was arrested on a charge of sexual battery.
According to the report, Smith was a clinical health technician at Manatee Palms Youth Services, placed there by Advance Personnel Services Inc. Advance Personnel Services officials said the woman is no longer employed by the company and that she was applying to the sheriff’s office the day the teen told authorities about the battery. She is free on bond.
Officials at Manatee Palms Youth Services directed questions to a corporate office. An official at its corporate office said the company is cooperating with authorities but had no further comment.
The Bradenton Herald also reported on another abusive individual hired by the Florida facility and published it in the same article:
In August 2003, an off-duty Manatee Palms Youth Services mental health technician was arrested for asking a 15-year-old girl to have sex with him on camera, an arrest report said at the time. The case against Jaimie Rivera, 43, is still pending.
Alahverdian was left at the Florida facility even as his RI DCYF social worker demanded that he be removed due to the torture he was enduring when she visited. The social worker remarked in official reports that Alahverdian was chemically sedated beyond recognition. Nicholas was covered in contusions, scars, fresh bruises, broken teeth, fingerprints around his neck, and black eyes.
Nicholas remained in the facility for six more months as the torture, beatings, and abuse continued.
When Nicholas Alahverdian was finally released and flown back to Rhode Island in June 2005, he was a shell of his former self. No longer was he the auspicious young man who carried loads of books in his briefcase on his way to the State House with stacks of legislative bills in the other arm. Nicholas was reduced to a zombie. His cognitive functions and motor skills were impaired. Alahverdian was a vegetable.
Alahverdian was unable to read or write. Nicholas was exactly where Judge Jeremiah and Governor Carcieri wanted him: first, in a place where he could not physically or verbally expose the truth. Second, in a mental state that rendered him incapable of expressing what the hell happened to him in these facilities that were absolute hell holes.
What happened to Nicholas Alahverdian should never happen to any other kid — anywhere — ever again.
Nicholas Alahverdian eventually made it to Harvard University where he excelled in his studies in politics and literature. The power of the Rhode Island government to torture him stopped at the Ivory Tower where his knowledge was allowed to grow without restriction along with talented students and inspirational Harvard professors. Just like Bob Kerr said in his 2002 Providence Journal column, we will hear from Nicholas Alahverdian down the road, where he continues to wage his war against those who would destroy the lives of kids.
Profile: Nicholas Alahverdian is a Harvard-educated scholar and political activist. As an adolescent, Nicholas survived torture and abuse inflicted upon him by the Rhode Island government under the direct orders of a chief judge and a governor following his political activism against them while Alahverdian was an employee of the Rhode Island House of Representatives.
Nicholas was sent to two facilities far from New England that had extensive records of torture, abuse, and negligence. He was forced to remain in these abusive facilities until his 18th birthday and was not allowed to contact anyone, go to school, or prepare for adulthood. Alahverdian survived the torture, sued his abusers, settled in court, and studied at Harvard University.
The primary scholarly focus of Nicholas Alahverdian is the intersection of philology, rhetoric, and politics. He has been featured in The Providence Journal, NPR, BBC, NBC, CBS, and ABC News as well as The Buddy Cianci Show, The Boston Globe and countless other media entities.
Emmy Skylar started working for Debate Report in 2017. Emmy grew up in a small town in northern Manitoba. But moved to Ontario for university. Before joining Debate Report, Emmy briefly worked as a freelance journalist for CBC News. She covers politics and the economy.